Is There a Double-Standard in Handling of Violent Female Parliamentarian?

Sydney, Australia–Several of my Australian readers have sent me this recent story about Australian female parliamentarian Belinda Neal’s violence. Neal (pictured) has now been ordered to attend anger management counseling.

Perhaps a male politician in the same situation would receive the same mild treatment, but I can’t help but feel that perhaps the double-standard of “men’s violence is a serious issue, women’s is no big deal” is at work. According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

WHEN Kevin Rudd ordered the federal MP Belinda Neal to attend anger management counseling yesterday, he lifted the lid on one of the worst-kept secrets of the NSW Labor Party – that Ms Neal can frequently be abusive and even violent.

Ms Neal is a woman who, senior Labor sources say, keeps photographs and written names of her political enemies in her freezer. And neighbors told the Herald yesterday of police visits to Ms Neal’s home at Woy Woy Bay, where she lives with her husband, the NSW Education Minister, John Della Bosca. They had often heard her swearing and screaming coming from the house.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was forced to interrupt his tour of Japan – one of the most important international visits of his political career – to telephone Ms Neal. He ordered her to undergo anger management, and threatened to dump her from the Labor Party if she transgressed again.

Mr Rudd had reached his limit. In the past week, Ms Neal has been accused of swearing and abusing staff at Gosford’s Iguanas Waterfront, and threatening she would have the club’s “f—ing licence”; and yesterday it emerged that she had been suspended for kicking a rival soccer player while she was on the ground.

Mr Rudd put every Labor MP on notice, saying they were expected to uphold decent standards of behaviour.

“No one, I repeat no one, is guaranteed a future in politics and that goes for all our members of Parliament,” he said in Tokyo.

After meeting the Japanese Emperor Akihito, Mr Rudd said: “I spoke to Belinda Neal today and said to her that there appears to be a pattern of unacceptable behaviour. She’s indicated that as a result of our conversation that she’ll actually be seeking counselling to assist in her own management of her relationships with other people.”

A somewhat contrite Ms Neal confirmed this yesterday, admitting that her argument with Iguanas staff “did continue too long”. But she continued to insist she had received bad service, and she denied kicking the soccer player when she was down.

But the Iguanas affair appears set now to be investigated by police. The Opposition Leader, Barry O’Farrell, wrote to the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, and asked him to investigate contradictory statutory declarations of the events written by the venue’s staff and Ms Neal’s and Mr Della Bosca’s dining companions. 

It will not be the first time the police have been involved with the couple, say neighbours who spoke to the Herald yesterday. They confirmed that police had been called to the couple’s home two or three times in the past decade, and it was “not uncommon” to hear Ms Neal’s screams coming from the house.

“Swearing and things being thrown, I’ve heard it,” one male neighbour said. “I’ve heard them arguing, fighting and throwing things. She’s a mouth on her.”

It has long been rumoured that Ms Neal has been abusive towards her husband. Mr Della Bosca and Ms Neal did not respond to written questions yesterday, but Mr Della Bosca’s spokesman said last night: “The minister does not want to respond to untrue and hurtful muckraking other than to say he loves his wife very much and has been married for 22 years.”

When Mr Della Bosca was asked by the Herald in a profile interview last August if Ms Neal had hit him on occasions, he said: “Not true”. Three other neighbours in their small dead-end street spoke of Ms Neal’s rages.

In the Central Coast seat of Robertson, the election night dampener in November was the lurking guilt that, in our desperation to get rid of John Howard, we had sent a time bomb to Canberra. Poor Kevin 07, we sagely said. As we raised our glasses to toast Rudd’s win, somebody added: “And Kevin, sorry about Belinda, mate.” 

“You can hear the language, you can hear the throwing,” another said. “She’s the one that does all the calling and the abusing.”

Ms Neal’s erratic behaviour is often viewed in Labor circles as the reason why her husband has not gone further in his career. As one senior Government source said: “The truth is we all know this [latest incident at Iguanas] is Belinda’s doing and Della’s judgment evaporates when Belinda is involved. It has been the way for 20 years.”

One of Ms Neal’s Labor colleagues said she publicly humiliated Mr Della Bosca at several country Labor conferences by shouting and abusing him.

Another Labor source said she was so vindictive that she boasted of putting enemies’ written names or their photos in her freeezer. This practice has been recorded as a modern adaptation of a hoodoo spell to shut up the named person, or freeze their words.

The full article can be seen here.

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